Plugging into Creative Outlets

By Brian C. Housand & Angela M. Housand
f it has been said once, it has been said a thousand times: We are preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist using technologies that have yet to be imagined. No longer will the hallmarks of 19th and 20th century education su ce when addressing the notion of serving students; the clarion call that has been ushered forth by organizations working to set the standards for preparing 21st century students is simply that to be competitive now and in the future, individuals will have to take more initiative, be more responsible, and produce more than ever before. ey will have to be exible, comfortable with ambiguity, and continually create and recreate to stay viable in a world that will, ever more, be in a state of ux. In this world, the world of today, creativity has become as important as literacy (Robinson, 2006) and technology is a tool, the use of which is not, itself, an end product. It is not enough for students to use PowerPoint to make a presentation or utilize word processors to write a creative story. e world of today is multimodel, multi-media, and multi-tasking. When we talk about gifted learners, we must change the conversation from addressing the academically able—whose test scores predict their success in high school and college—and instead look to develop opportunities for creative-productive giftedness. Creative-productive giftedness describes those aspects of human activity and involvement where a premium is placed on the development of original material and products that are purposefully designed to have an impact on one or more target audiences. —Renzulli, 1986, p. 58; Renzulli & Reis 2003


Fortunately, our best and brightest students are uent thinkers, able to generate a multitude of possibilities. ey are exible thinkers who seek new, unusual, or unconventional solutions to problems. ey make inferences and are able to make relationships with seemingly unlike things. ey thrive on complexity, revel in ambiguity, and engage in “what if ” as a state of mind. e extreme curiosity they exhibit can be fueled by impulsivity and tempered by extreme sensitivity. ese are the individuals who hold the keys to success, but they are often marginalized and disenfranchised by the rote memorization and drill work that have become the hallmarks of our standardized, test-obsessed bureaucracies. ese students are the harbingers of a new way of life, and as educators, we must put the tools in their hands and encourage them to create and support open-ended processes, provide autonomy, avoid limitations on what they are allowed to do, and allow them to be the risk takers. If we want them to be citizens of a yet unrealized global society, we must engage them in authentic learning that allows them to investigate their world by enabling them to assume the role of rsthand explorers, writers, artists, and practicing professionals (Renzulli et al, 2000). We must create situations in which students explore content and develop skills using the same methodologies that would be used in a given discipline so that these skills and basic knowledge can be applied to current problems as well as the unknown. Of course there is value in seeking to attain this, but the gap between what kids are doing on their own and what they are being asked to do in school is a chasm that must be crossed incrementally.

To succeed in today’s Creative Society, students must learn to think creatively, plan systematically, analyze critically, work collaboratively, communicate clearly, design iteratively, and learn continuously. Unfortunately, most uses of technologies in schools today do not support these 21st-century learning skills. In many cases, new technologies are simply reinforcing old ways of teaching and learning. —Resnick, 2007/2008, p.22 We are living in a current educational climate that is governed by accountability and is guided by standards. Meanwhile outside of schools, technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate. Tools and Internet services that are taken for granted by today’s youth did not even exist ve or ten years ago. Fortunately, a rst incremental step toward a set of standards that embraces the need for educational accountability while honoring the ever-changing technological landscape has been taken. e International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has developed the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) that incorporate many of the principles and best practices of gifted education with technology. ese standards have been developed for students (NETS-S), teachers (NETS-T), and administrators (NETS-A) outlining the essential skills necessary to demonstrate technology literacy. Rather than being subject speci c, the NETS-S o er a cross curricular view of the skills required for students to be successful and competitive in a globalized digital environment. e NETS-S are divided into 6 separate strands that in many ways echo the exact principles that many gifted programs are based on without the technology: 1. Creativity and Innovation 2. Communication and Collaboration 3. Research and Information Fluency 4. Critical inking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making 5. Digital Citizenship 6. Technology Operations and Concept While all six of these strands should be integrated into any learning opportunity, the rst, Creativity and Innovation, is of particular interest as a strand that may provide the means by which students in the United States—a country founded on innovation, risk-taking, and an entrepreneurial spirit—can set themselves apart from students in other nations, thereby maintaining competitiveness in global markets. For additional information on the other ve strands and on NETS-T and NETS-A please visit According to the NET-S Creativity and Innovation goal, students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology. e focus in not on any particular tool or technology since they are constantly changing and improving. Instead the focus is on the use of technology to:

• apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes • create original works as a means of personal or group expression • use models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues • identify trends and forecast possibilities Additionally, ISTE has developed a set of pro les that better clarify what technologically literate students are able to accomplish and produce. Pro les are divided into four grade level categories: PK-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. Each o ers 10 general ideas about the types of activities or products that students should be pursuing and producing; in no way should they limit what a student does. e full list is available at NETS-S_2007_Student_Pro les_EN.s b.ashx. While there are a multitude of technology tools available that range from alarmingly expensive to free, the idea of accessibility is paramount as technology has the unique quality of leveling the playing eld when readily available free tools are utilized. One caveat—schools must give students access to the Internet and explicitly teach the skills that will enable students to be safe in the globalized digital landscape. In this digital world, hardly a week goes by when a new tool does not become available, and although these tools are constantly changing, the thinking and creativity that is part of the process does not. To illustrate how educators can begin to implement these standards and e ciently integrate technology into gifted classrooms, examples of creative productivity along with appropriate tools and resources to complete such products are provided for each of the four grade levels of the ISTE NETS-S.

e International Society for Technology Education’s NETS-S calls for even the youngest students to utilize digital tools to illustrate and communicate original ideas and to work collaboratively. ISTE recognizes that it is never too early to require young students to use a variety of technologies as a creative tool. One example of a tool that o ers a great deal of potential for pre-kindergarten through second grade is the collaborative storytelling tool Storybird, Storybird reverses the process of visual storytelling by starting with the image and invites users to unlock the story inside. Students begin by choosing an artist or a theme from Storybird’s catalog for inspiration. Each theme contains 20–30 separate images for inspiration. Students choose images to add to an electronic book format and then are invited to add their own text. Students are able to create their own stories and share them with others by posting them online. Storybird also allows one to invite others into the creation process. Together, students are able to craft an electronic book. Another way to encourage young students to create is to allow them to use digital cameras to tell a story. While many young students may struggle with the ability to write words to go with their personal narrative, photography has long a orded young creators with the ability to show others what they are talking about.

Many years ago, the Polaroid Education Program encouraged the use of instant cameras by young children as a means of visual storytelling, but modern technology has eliminated the costly lm and developing associated with cameras of old. Once students are uent storytellers, the visual storytelling process can be reversed. Teachers can use an online photo archive like ickr, http://www., to nd interesting photos that can serve as rich story starters for young students. e bene t of using an archive like ickr is the breadth and depth of options available as most of the over 5 million photographs are free!

By the time that students have entered upper elementary, they have begun to become adept at utilizing more advanced tools for creation. e ISTE NET-S Pro le for grades 3-5 recommends that students “use digital-imaging technology to modify or create works of art for use in a digital presentation.” For years, this type of activity has been translated as “students will create a PowerPoint presentation,” but as tools have progressed, we need to allow our students additional opportunities and more advanced tools to work with. If we look at this suggestion as two separate parts, we can begin to see additional creative outlets. First, students are encouraged to modify or create works of art. e most powerful and widely used tool for photo-manipulation is Adobe’s Photoshop, but this is a very expensive tool that may be too complex for even the most advanced elementary students. ere are a multitude of free online services that allow one to edit photos, but perhaps the easiest to use and fully functional is Aviary is is a free suite of powerful online creation tools that allow you to edit and manipulate images to such a degree that is only rivaled by Photoshop. Aviary also allows you to capture images from your screen and edit them. In addition to creating and editing visual images, Aviary o ers tools that allow you to create music with drum and instrument sound loops and to record and edit sound. With an ever-expanding array of creative products, Aviary serves as a one-stop shop for powerful and free creative tools. Once students have modi ed or created works of art, they will need a digital showcase to present their products. Glogster EDU,, o ers a 21st century approach to the classic product choice of creating a poster. Glogster is a Web 2.0 platform that easily allows users to use a catalog of backgrounds and images or to upload photos, videos, text, and audio to create a unique online, interactive poster. rough a simple and easy to use drag-and-drop interface, one is able to quickly create a highquality digital project without the use of a pair of scissors or a single glue stick.

ditionally meant that a select number of students would create a weekly newscast for the school. As video recording equipment has become more economical and compact through the development of tools like the Flip video camera, kids are equipped and becoming amateur lmmakers at an early age. Also, consider that as cell phones have become ubiquitous in the lives of teens that these devices typically also have the ability to record video. Movie making is something that has become a reality and we should encourage students to use readily available technology to create. On nearly every computer some type of video editing software already exists. Windows Movie Maker for the PC and iMovie for the Mac both o er the ability to easily edit video images, insert transitions, add a soundtrack, and incorporate opening titles and closing credits. Jaycut,, o ers a free online video-editing tool that is similar in function but does not require the installation of software. Also video projects are stored online, or in “the cloud,” during the editing phase and elegantly solves the problem of students always having to use the same computer or keep track of a jump drive device to continually move productivity forward. A student project no longer has to have a limited audience. anks to the video-sharing platform YouTube, anyone in the world can create a movie and have it seen by millions of people. A service that has only been in existence since 2005, YouTube has become an integral part of our experience. On average, 24 hours of video content is uploaded to YouTube every minute, and more than 2 billion videos are viewed every single day. Movie making is no longer a complicated option in which only a select few can participate. Instead of assigning another written or oral report, consider having your students create a video essay.

Examining the NET-S Pro les for high school students is a daunting experience for digital immigrants. To demonstrate technology literacy, students are expected to accomplish such tasks as designing websites, troubleshooting computer issues, publishing online art galleries, and modeling digital citizenship. Top among the list of expected outcomes is that students in grades 9-12 should “design, develop, and test a digital learning game to demonstrate knowledge and skills related to curriculum content.” Recently, the rst ever National STEM Video Game Challenge,, was held. Students were invited to create video games that focused on teaching concepts related to science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. e organizers recognized that the process of designing video games requires the use of skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and creative design. Participants were encouraged to submit games created using a number of di erent tools including Scratch and Gamestar Mechanic. Scratch,, is a free program designed to introduce students to computer programming. Developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media lab as part of research funded by the National Science Foundation, Scratch proposes that users should imagine, program, and share their cre-

As students transition into middle school, the level of sophistication of tools and expected outcomes also increases. According to the ISTE NET-S Pro les for grades 6 through 8, students should create original animations or videos documenting school, community, or local events. In some middle schools this has tra22 GIFTED EDUCATION COMMUNICATOR SPRING 2011

ations. Scratch uses a visual programming language where, rather than relying on complicated code, programmers snap together blocks much like LEGO bricks to create interactions with images that have been uploaded into the program. Scratch o ers a programming language that is simple to begin with but also allows for the creation of complex and dynamic programs. Gamestar Mechanic,, begins by having students play a video game online; while playing the beginning stages of the game, students are actually learning how to create games using the platform. Quickly the object of the Gamestar Mechanic shifts from playing the game to creating the game to advance to the next level. Like Scratch, there is a focus not only on creating but also on publishing and sharing games with the community—a vital part of digital citizenship. While video games have received a great deal of criticism, we must be cautious before dismissing them as a destructive force. If we look more closely, we see that that while our kids are playing games, they may actually be learning, problem solving, thinking critically, and working collaboratively. One of the earliest uses of computers in schools often centered on playing games like e Oregon Trail. Perhaps the time has come to reexamine the use of video games for educational purposes and challenge students to not only play games but also create games that teach. Consider the impact that video games have had on our students as described by Seymour Papert in 1993. Video games teach children what computers are beginning to teach adults—that some forms of learning are fast-paced, immensely compelling, and rewarding. e fact that they are enormously demanding of one’s time and require new ways of thinking remains a small price to pay (and is perhaps even an advantage) to be vaulted into the future. Not surprisingly, by comparison, school strikes many young people as slow, boring, and frankly out of touch. As teachers of the gifted, we stand at a crossroads between accountability to the standards and the promotion of creativity in education. Meanwhile outside of school, technology is rapidly advancing with little impact on day-to-day school settings and, thereby, the day-to-day professional lives of students. We must begin to embrace new ideas and technological tools in the classroom before we lose our students. In thinking about ways that we can best support the development of our digital youth, we should rst, just as gifted teachers have always done, continue giving our students a purpose for creating. Next, as we consider projects that we are asking our students to complete, not only should we o er options that include technology but “other” should always be an option since we may be asking technologically talented students to produce products that are far beneath their ability level without knowing any better. Additionally, we provide parameters for student technology products to ensure that meaningful content is embedded and that we are not asking students to use technology simply for the sake of using technology. If we value students using technology

for creative purposes, then we must also allow time and a space to use the tools. Technology should not be a special event but should instead be a part of the regular lives of students in school as it is out of school. Finally, teachers must be able to accept the ambiguity that comes along with technology in the classroom and realize that despite even the most detailed plans, things will not go perfectly. Now that we have fully entered into the second decade of the 21st century, the question is no longer if we are going to use technology, but how we are going to use it. To prepare our students for the future, we can no longer deny them access to technology while in school. We must begin helping them by allowing their full civic participation in today’s digital society. Kids today are creating indelible footprints on the digital landscape. Today’s technologies have placed in our hands and pockets unbelievably powerful tools for creativity. We are in a new golden age of creative productivity, and we must do all that we can to ensure that our gifted students stay plugged into creative outlets.

Papert, S. (1993). The children’s thinking machine: Rethinking schools in the age of the computer. New York: Basic Books. Resnick, M. (2007/2008). Sowing the seeds for a more creative society. Learning & Leading with Technology. Dec/Jan. 18-22. Robinson, K. (2006). Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity [Video file]. Retrieved from . Renzulli, J. S. (1986). The three-ring conception of giftedness: A developmental model for creative productivity. In Sternberg, R. J., & Davidson J. (Ed.) Conceptions of Giftedness (pp. 53-92). New York: Cambridge University Press. Renzulli, J. S., Leppien, J. H., and Hays, T. S. (2000). The Multiple Menu Model: A Practical Guide for Developing Di erentiated Curriculum. Mansfield Center, CT: Creative Learning Press. Renzulli, J.S. & Reis, S.M. (2003). The schoolwide enrichment model: Developing creative and productive giftedness. In N. Colangelo & G.A. Davis (Eds.), The handbook of gifted education (3rd ed., pp. 184-203). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
BRIAN HOUSAND teaches in the department of Curriculum and Instruction at East Carolina University. He earned a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology at the University of Connecticut’s National Research Center, Gifted and Talented, with a dual emphasis in gifted education and instructional technology. He is currently exploring ways in which technology can enhance the learning environment, and striving to define creative-productive giftedness in a digital age. He can be reached at and his website is ANGELA M. HOUSAND is an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Dr. Housand graduated from the University of Connecticut in educational psychology with an emphasis in talent development and gifted education. As a former teacher, she brings an applied focus to work as an instructor, presenter, and researcher.